Everyone who works to buy or sell local, sustainable food is reshaping the food system—and that’s no small task. Local Orbit works with large-scale buyers and small and mid-sized suppliers to streamline the work of sourcing, selling, and delivering local and sustainable food, and connecting regional food systems. We’re singularly focused on enabling transparent, safe, and fair supply chains.
Food supply chains are complex. Changing entrenched systems is challenging work. And it requires skills, patience, and the development of infrastructure that’s not the sexy face of the farm-to-table story — but it’s work that drives real change, and it’s often behind the scenes.
Julia Belluz wrote a terrific analysis of a quiet, patient change-making endeavor in Vox: How Michelle Obama quietly changed what Americans eat. If you care about changing the way we eat, this is an excellent case study in implementing complex change among multiple stakeholders at a massive scale – with patience and grace. I’m sharing some highlights here, and I encourage you to read the full article.
Shortly after President Obama was elected to the White House in 2008, first lady Michelle Obama divulged some sensitive, personal details: The Obama children, Malia and Sasha, were gaining weight.
In interviews and speeches, she described her worry about her family’s health and a pediatrician’s warning that her daughters’ body mass index (BMI) was creeping up.
“Even though I wasn’t exactly sure at that time what I was supposed to do with this information about my children’s BMI,” the first lady said in 2010, “I knew that I had to do something. I had to lead our family to a different way.”
That personal struggle became political. Obama has spent the bulk of her time in the White House doing something unprecedented for a “mom-in-chief”: pushing hard against childhood obesity. Today, her Let’s Move campaign is her highest-profile endeavor, far better known than her Joining Forces campaign to support service members and their families, or Let Girls Learn to advocate for girls’ education around the world.
But I have to admit something: I was skeptical of the influence Obama could have on the nation’s health…
…I wasn’t confident that FLOTUS, with no legislative power, could make a dent.
Then I spoke with a dozen people who worked closely on her campaign, as well as the health and food policy researchers who studied it. (Despite repeated requests, Obama’s office did not grant an interview with the First Lady on childhood obesity — and she has demurred from discussing the details of this work with other members of the press as well.)
I learned that some of the very things that made Michelle Obama sometimes appear soft — the industry collaborations, the emphasis on exercise — were part of the shrewd strategy that made her effective. Through her leadership, the Obama administration seized on a moment when America started paying attention to food, and made fighting obesity a top priority — both symbolically and legislatively.
Obama planted a garden, waged snappy social media campaigns, and worked behind the scenes with researchers, lawmakers, heads of government departments, schools, and food giants to quietly change what Americans eat.
Even observers who previously worried about Obama’s food industry partnerships now called her advocacy “brilliant,” “unprecedented,” and a “godsend.”
They decided that rather than lambasting industry or criticizing industry, they should invite companies or the private sector to participate, and I think they made it clear the bar was going to be high in terms of what legitimate participation would look like.
“All that attention to the issue has really helped push the discussion forward,” said Kelly Brownell, a Duke University obesity researcher — and former critic. Observers said this administration — largely because of the first lady’s focus — will have more of an impact on obesity in this country than any other in recent history. (Obama is also the only modern FLOTUS after Hillary Clinton to have a major influence on policy initiatives.)
Marion Nestle, the longtime food policy researcher who was also previously skeptical of the first lady’s approach, is now among the impressed. “This was the first time in my life someone in the White House was interested in the same kinds of issues I’m interested in,” she recently told me. “We’re going to look back in 10, 20 years and wish she were still around.”
….So how did Michelle Obama manage such a contentious change?
Read the full article on Vox. The story isn’t finished, but the trajectory is inspiring.
Also published on Medium.